Chapter 31: Cat
“So… what’s it like? What’s he like?” Sarah said.
Cat was alone in Water’s Edge on a Saturday night. Christopher had left the day before for New York City for a game. Cat had reminded him she could give him an extra winning weekend, but he said she should stay and get some rest as they had a busy week with clients the following week. She’d taken the opportunity to phone Sarah and, with some fantastic luck, had caught Sarah at home alone. Kevin had taken the kids to see his mother in Elizabeth. Sarah couldn’t stand her mother-in-law, so she stayed at home.
“How’s my dad?” Cat asked.
“Oh, no, no, no.” Cat heard Sarah’s hard drag on a cigarette. “Me first. I asked first.”
“It’s…” Cat paused. What could she say about being here? It’s like living on another planet. It’s like having fallen upwards into Heaven. And speaking of Heaven, she had a freakin’ angel next to her every day. “It’s amazing. He’s amazing. Now, how’s my dad?”
“Haven’t seen him. Define amazing.”
“What do you mean you haven’t seen him? You said you’d look out for him.”
“He’s not at the apartment anymore. He got kicked out.”
Cat walked to the open patio doors with her coffee and stared over the expanse. The sea was glass today, with no tide or ripples as still as a pond. There was a splash, and she turned her head to watch a lone fish leap from the water repeatedly, speeding away from what Christopher had told her was probably a shark. She hadn’t yet gotten up her nerve to walk down the back steps into that crystal clear water, and Christophers’ mention of a shark didn’t help her slight fear of what lay beneath. Since arriving, she’d taken to sitting on the sea wall and watching the action. She’d seen hundreds of fish, that stingray the first day, and even an octopus. She wasn’t sure she’d be brave enough to share her space with those creatures. The fish jumped again. Jersey City was a world away.
“So where did he go? Did you give him any of the money I wired?”
Sarah scoffed. “As if! I put it in your bank account.”
“But where is he staying, Sarah? Does he even have a roof over his head?”
“May I remind you, Cat, that your dad kicked you out onto the street as though you were a piece of trash? He accused you of being a hooker! Or did you forget? Now tell me about this Hanna dude. Did you hook up with him yet?”
Cat couldn’t help but laugh. She moved to the chair closest to the patio door, so she didn’t lose the cordless phone signal and pulled her legs up in front of her. She pushed her toes to the edge of her seat, admiring the pedicure Parisia had given her last week.
“Of course not! He’s my boss, isn’t he? Did you call Ed? Find out if he’s seen my dad?”
“No way. I’m not calling that asshole. Your dad knows where I am if he needs help. I’m surprised he hasn’t turned up on my doorstep already looking for a handout.” Another drag on her cigarette. “Do you want to hook up with him?”
“God, Sarah, he’s been so nice! Like, looking after me, you know? He’s like, so proud of me and tells me all the time I’m a genius… and beautiful. But he is way too good for me. You should see this family. They’re like the Kennedys or something. He took me to lunch with his grandfather, which was like sitting with the Godfather. All these people scurried around, wanting to do something for him. He’s famous here, you know?”
“Too good for you, Cat! You’re crazy! You’re making him richer, aren’t you? And speaking of that - why does he need more money? Why doesn’t he hang out on the beach and drink margaritas? That’s what I would do.”
“He’s trying to prove himself to his family. It’s so sad, Sarah. His entire family loves his brother the most. And his brother is a jerk. He tries to control everyone around him. And he’s mean as anything with money. He gives Christopher an allowance. Can you believe it?” Cat picked at her nail polish. She shouldn’t have let Parisia do them red. It was too noticeable.
“The brother sounds like a dick. How much is his allowance?”
“Haha. I don’t know, but a lot. I mean, he orders champagne at lunch, Sarah. And he doesn’t even look at the menu first. He orders it as soon as we sit down like it’s nothing. And none of them drink regular water. Everyone he knows drinks Evian all day. Like they don’t know water comes out of the faucets.”
“Ugh. Stop bragging. I’m eating ramen and tuna tonight because Kevin said he’d kill me if I cooked the steaks he bought without him here. I keep freaking staring at them in the fridge. I’m slightly worried about why he bought them. I think he wants me to have another kid. Can you believe it? His mother thinks we’re using birth control. Of course I’m using fucking birth control. These Catholics, man.”
Cat put her hand over her mouth so Sarah wouldn’t hear her laugh. She couldn’t think of anything Sarah would hate more than being pregnant again.
“So what would you say to a baby?” Cat teased.
“Oh no, lady. You can’t distract me with baby talk. I am too into this drama of yours. Did you ask Richie Rich why he’s using my Kick-Ass best friend to rake in the bucks when he already bathes in champagne and caviar?”
“I told you. He wants to prove himself to his family. He wants to be free of his horrible brother. And he wants to help his friends who don’t have as much. Did you know he pays for everything when he takes his friends to New York? Like, they’re hotel rooms, food, everything. He’s such a nice guy, Sarah.”
“So you’re staying then?” Cat heard a faucet turn on and pictured Sarah standing at her sink, running her wrists under the cold water to cool down. The sink would be full of dirty dishes, and there would be an ashtray next to her filled with butts. Instead of the usual ache of homesickness, Cat experienced a surprising pang of disgust. She’d go home soon. In a few months, she’d have enough to get her dad into rehab and change his life. She’d have enough for the little house down at the shore with a few rooms to rent. It would be a new start. This wasn’t her life. She couldn’t stay here forever.
“Of course, I’m not staying,” Cat said. “I don’t belong here, Sarah. I try. I have the dress and the make-up, and I try with the accent, but people see through all of it. You should have seen Christopher’s mother at that party when I arrived. She looked at me like I was a slug. I’m so relieved I haven’t seen her since. Every single one of these people is laughing at me behind my back. The only time I can get that out of my head is when my head is full of counting.”
“They don’t deserve you. You are a hundred times more special than any of those assholes. So keep counting, Honey. And keep sending all that lovely cash over here. Your bank account has six figures in it. Sometimes, I take out your bank book and stare at the number, pretending it’s mine. Will you give me some?”
“You know I will.”
Cat heard the front door open. With the ocean this still, the slightest sound echoed around her from far distances. Last night, she’d listened to a party on a boat anchored way out by Rose Island.
“Cat?” Parisia called. “You here?”
“Gotta go,” Cat said to Sarah. “Love you!” She hung up before she heard Sarah’s reply.
Cat had promised Christopher that she would talk to Parisia about the casino. Parisia’s Saturday shift ended at five, so Cat hoped she’d come home. And here she was. Cat was going to suggest they pick up a pizza and eat on the back patio. She hadn’t a clue how she was supposed to get the information Christopher wanted. Parisia would think she was a weirdo. But she would try her best for Christopher. Cat planned to have all the answers before Christopher got back tomorrow so she could impress him.
Cat picked up her empty coffee mug and rushed inside to find Parisia… and Brad. She hadn’t seen him since the Highwater party. She flushed when she remembered how he’d made fun of her. He was so arrogant. How was she supposed to know he wasn’t a fisherman? He’d certainly looked like a fisherman then. Now, he didn’t. Right now, he looked like the CEO of a billion-dollar company. He’d clearly arrived straight from work in his tailored pin-stripe suit. His hair, which had been matted and wild the day they’d met, was now tamed and perfect. She wanted Parisia to herself, but now she had to deal with her comedian boyfriend.
“You okay?” Parisia gave her a concerned look as she plopped her handbag on the table in the open foyer.
“I’m fine,” Cat said. “How are you guys?”
“Glad to be home,” Parisia said, kicking off her high heels so they skittered across the tile floor of the living room. “Brad’s going to cook for us. You’re in for a treat.” She smiled at Cat before walking to her bedroom to change, leaving Cat and Brad alone.
“I thought I’d make some fish,” Brad said. “You know, being that I’m a…”
“I don’t understand how I was supposed to know who you were,” Cat interrupted. See? He was proving it. Arrogant.
Brad started toward “his” bedroom. She’d noticed he kept clothes in a drawer there—nothing like what he was wearing right now. Just ripped jean shorts and band T-shirts. As he passed her, he mussed her hair. He didn’t even know her, but he put his hand on her head and mussed up her hair, a massive grin on his face. Ass.
They sat on the back patio and watched the full moon rise over the ocean. Cat had to admit the meal had been outstanding. Brad told her the fish was called Grouper. He’d caught it right here, just off the back patio. Cat had felt sad when he’d said that, wondering if she’d ever watched the grouper swim beneath her dangling feet. It didn’t stop her from eating it. It was too tasty.
“Where did you learn how to cook?” She asked. Cat had thawed slightly toward Brad throughout the evening. He didn’t tease her again and was nothing but interested and interesting. She warned herself that he could be only grilling for information, but he didn’t push. He accepted her fake story of an upbringing in New York City, meeting Christopher, and hitting it off. He hadn’t asked why she was still here a month and a half later after what was supposed to be a week’s vacation.
“Boarding school.” He answered. And she saw Parisia surreptitiously move a hand to rest gently on his knee. They were cute. “I didn’t get to go home at the Holidays. Grandpa Uly told me my mother thought it best I stay in Scotland. I stayed with the headmaster’s family but spent all my time in the kitchen. Their cook, Annetta, took pity on me, I guess. At first, she just gave me little things to do, but eventually, she started teaching me for real. By age eighteen, I was cooking for the family dinner parties. I loved every minute.”
“But you gave it up? You didn’t become a chef?” Cat picked at the bones on her plate with her fingers, searching out every last piece of delicious white flesh. Maybe it wasn't polite to use her fingers, but Parisia wouldn’t mind, and she didn’t especially care what Brad thought.
“Duty called,” Brad said, and Parisia rubbed his knee quickly before retrieving her hand and reaching for her wine.
“His family mapped out Brad’s life for him,” Parisia said. “He didn’t get to choose.”
Cat dipped in her well for some sympathy but could dredge up nothing. Brad had everything. He had Christopher’s job. He was rich, his grandfather’s favorite. He had a beautiful girlfriend. It could only be his fault if he didn’t get along with his family. She could tell when he spoke of Brad that underneath his justifiable anger, he was hurting. Christopher wanted them to be close.
“Pretty good life, though.” Cat couldn’t resist saying.
Brad smiled a sad smile and changed the subject. “My friend told me you spend a lot of time at the Hanna casino. You play blackjack?”
Cat concentrated on holding her hand steady while she picked up her glass of wine. She took a long, slow sip to steady herself before replying.
“Yes. I like to play.” She said. “My father taught me. Since his death, it reminds me of him. I feel him with me at the blackjack table.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Brad said. And he looked like he meant it.
“Thank you.” She said. Hopefully, that was the end of it.
“So you must have met some of Christopher’s college buddies since you’ve been hanging out with him?”
“Sorry?” Cat carefully placed her wine back on the table. She had to be careful here. What would Brad do if he knew what Christopher was up to? Would he turn him over to the police? Could he turn him in? She ran through her brain, trying to remember what Christopher said about being unable to gamble. Did it count as gambling if he was providing the money?
“My friend said he saw you there with a few of Chris’s college buddies. Playing together.” Brad said. Parisia looked back and forth between them with a cocked eyebrow. Clearly, this was news to her.
“Well, since Christopher isn’t allowed to play, I’m keeping them company.”
Parisia laughed. “The law has never stopped Christopher before. I caught him in Carnival casino, too. He was hanging with a bunch of MIT dudes we eventually busted for counting. We couldn’t prove he had anything to do with it, so he got a pass. Although, given his past and reputation, It wouldn’t surprise me if he were involved.”
Cat spun sharply toward Parisia, “What past? What reputation?”
Now it was Brad’s turn to put his hand on Parisia’s knee. “It’s nothing, Catriona.” Why, oh why, did he keep using her full name? It irritated her. “Christopher’s had some growing pains, that’s all. It’s nothing, right Parisia?”
Cat didn’t know what growing pains meant but was sure that Brad was incredibly judgmental and had poisoned his girlfriend against his brother. It was all just as Christopher had told her. Only then did Cat realize that Parisia never spoke of Christopher to her. Even though Parisia knew he was the reason Cat was here, she’d avoided the subject.
“What did you do? About the MIT guys?” Cat asked. She stood and started clearing the table, scraping fish bones to a single plate and trying to sound casual.
“Turned them in,” Parisia said. “They’re banned for life.”
Cat stood with the plates in her hand as though she were about to go inside and assembled a confused but curious look on her face. “So, did you do anything at the casino? You know. To stop it from happening again?”
“Not much to do, really.” Parisia lifted the bottle of chilled white wine from the bucket and refilled their glasses. “You just have to observe. They tried to train us all on how to spot the signs, but no one paid much attention. You’d have to be capable of counting yourself to recognize someone else doing it. We don’t have many MIT nerds on staff.”
“I wish I could count,” Cat said. “But I didn’t even finish college. Not a chance I’d be able to do it if you can’t, Parisia.”
“What’s the fun in counting, anyway?” Brad said. “It’s like fishing in a stocked pond spiked with sleeping pills. Nah, your way is more fun, Catriona.” Brad picked up his glass and toasted toward her as she opened the patio doors.
“Yeah. You’re probably right,” Cat said. She walked inside with both arms filled with dishes and leaned against the patio door to close it behind her.
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